For city parks: Pass the Great American Outdoors Act now
© iStock

The pandemic has added urgency to the national dialogue on the role of parks and public spaces as essential civic infrastructure. As schools, businesses, churches and other institutions closed, park and trail use surged as one of the last public places to support our physical and mental health with ample leeway for social distancing. Not all cities are so fortunate to have spaces for people to safely meet-up, exercise, get fresh air, find access to nature, and feel normal again. Parks and trails are more important than ever. And there is new legislation in the wings to help.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad State and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November Teacher's union puts million behind ad demanding funding for schools preparing to reopen MORE (R-Ky.) plans to bring the Great American Outdoors Act to a vote in June. The Act will fully and permanently dedicate $900 million per year into the Land and Water Conservation Fund and reduce the maintenance backlog on our public lands. President TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE has signaled that he would sign it into law. This bipartisan legislation supports local economies, encourages tourism, and creates jobs — a win for the economy and environment while providing additional space for recreation and access to nature at a time when we need it most.

During this pandemic we have experienced a renewed understanding of the important — and invaluable — place our parks and greenspace play in building community health. We know they will help cities emerge stronger and more economically and socially resilient during our recovery.

ADVERTISEMENT

Investments in city parks is needed more than ever to help address some of our greatest urban challenges — from stormwater management and flood prevention to reducing public health costs, economic revitalization, and job growth. Study after study shows that immersion in nature has substantial physical and mental health benefits, and the closer you live to a park the more likely you are to use it for recreation and exercise. According to the Center for Disease Control, one-in-five children and one-in three adults are obese, and 90 percent of the nation’s $3.5 trillion in annual health care expenditures are for people with chronic and mental health conditions.

Since 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has supported more than 44,000 state and local parks, playgrounds, urban wildlife refuges, trails and open spaces. The program is funded entirely by royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling, matched by state and local contributions.

Just as coronavirus has shined a light on equity issues in our cities, it has become apparent that parks and green infrastructure are often limited in the economically distressed neighborhoods where they are most needed. One LWCF program, in particular, is helping to address that inequity head-on. The Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program directs funds specifically to underserved urban communities for new outdoor recreation spaces and renovations to existing parks and recreation centers. Since 2014, Congress has invested $95 million in the program. With a dollar-for-dollar match, the total investment rises to $190 million to create or improve parks in underserved communities. Local public and private investments will add millions more. The passage of the Great American Outdoors Act will provide children and their families the opportunity to experience nature close to home.

The bipartisan Mayors for Parks Coalition, led by City Parks Alliance, agrees. Mayors have long supported full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and they witness its direct impact on a daily basis. LWCF funding is an essential resource for cities as they seek to develop new or revitalize existing urban parks, green spaces and recreation opportunities.

Passage of the Great American Outdoors Act will be a historic win for all; helping to provide park access for all Americans no matter where they live.

Catherine Nagel is executive director of City Parks Alliance.